Student Support

Bystander Behavior


In an Emergency 24/7

From any campus phone,
call 4300 or 911

From a mobile phone,
call SMC dispatch

If off-campus, call 911

What Is Bystander Behavior?

Bystander Behavior is a social science model that predicts that most people are unlikely to help others in certain situations. A bystander is anyone who observes an emergency or a situation that looks like someone could use some help. They must then decide if they are comfortable stepping in and offering assistance.

Research has found that people tend to struggle with whether helping out is their responsibility and one of the major obstacles to intervention is something called diffusion of responsibility -- which means that if several people are present, an individual is much less likely to step up and help out because he/she believes someone else will.  Other major reasons that bystanders fail to intervene are that the situation is too ambiguous, that the bystander is worried about misjudging the situation and thus will be embarrassed by intervening, or that the bystander believes the victim is in some way responsible for the situation and is thus, getting what they deserve.

Bystander Behavior programs teach people to overcome their resistance to checking in and helping out. These programs have been found to be very helpful on college campuses to thwart sexual assault, abusive alcohol consumption, dorm damage, and concerns about suicide, depression and eating disorders.

Have you ever stopped a friend from going home with someone when your friend was really drunk or high?  Have you ever gotten a friend who is very drunk to Urgent Care or taken care of them for the night because you knew they were too drunk to be left alone? These are examples of your being a bystander using your power to stop violence and/or potential injury or death from alcohol poisoning.

Heading: Barriers to Intervening

There are some things that stop us from intervening, let’s explore them.

  1. Social Influence – “It looks like something is wrong, but I don’t see anyone else doing anything, so maybe it’s not so bad after all.”
  2. Fear of Embarrassment – “If I react or get involved, it might call negative attention to me, or embarrass the person I’m trying to help.”
  3. Diffusion of Responsibility – “There’s got to be someone who’s more qualified than me to handle this, so I’ll wait and let them do it.”
  4. Fear of Retaliation – “I don’t want them to start picking on me next!” A bystander may have a legitimate fear of negative consequences or retaliation if they intervene. This fear may include fear of physical and/or emotional harm, retaliation, lack of support from superiors for attempting to intervene and negative reaction or comments from others. This fear may be heightened if the person has had a previous negative experience.
  5. Pluralistic ignorance – “This is the way we’ve always done things, and no one’s speaking up, so everyone else must think this is the best way to handle it.” A bystander misperceives others’ concern and desire for intervention. This occurs when most people in a group are concerned and want to act but incorrectly believe that they are in the minority, acquiescing to what is perceived as the majority view by being silent.

Bystander Behavior Techniques (the 4 Ds):

Please remember that your safety is of the utmost importance. When a situation that threatens physical harm to yourself or a student, ask someone for help or contact the police.

  1. Direct: Step in and address the situation directly. This might look like saying, "That's not cool. Please stop." or "Hey, leave them alone." This technique tends to work better when the person that you're trying to stop is someone that knows and trusts you. It does not work well when drugs or alcohol are being used because someone's ability to have a conversation with you about what is going on may be impaired, and they are more likely to become defensive.
  2. Distract: Distract either person in the situation to intervene. This might look like saying, "Hey, aren't you in my Spanish class?" or "Who wants to go get pizza?" This technique is especially useful when drugs or alcohol are being used because people under the influence are more easily distracted then those that are sober.
  3. Delegate: Find others who can help you to intervene in the situation. This might look like asking a friend to distract one person in the situation while you distract the other ("splitting" or "defensive split"), asking someone to go sit with them and talk, or going and starting a dance party right in the middle of their conversation. If you didn't know either person in the situation, you could also ask around to see if someone else does and check in with them. See if they can go talk to their friend, text their friend to check in, or intervene.
  4. Delay: For many reasons, you may not be able to do something right in the moment. For example, if you're feeling unsafe or if you're unsure whether or not someone in the situation is feeling unsafe, you may just want to check in with the person. In this case, you can combine a distraction technique by asking the person to use the bathroom with you or go get a drink with you to separate them from the person that they are talking with. Then, this might look like asking them, "Are you okay?" or "How can I help you get out of this situation?" This could also look like texting the person, either in the situation or after you see them leave and asking, "Are you okay?" or "Do you need help?"

Informational Videos:

Reducing the Risk of Acquaintance "Date" Rape: Reducing the Risk of Acquaintance "Date" Rape:

  • When dating someone for the first time, seriously consider doing so in a group situation or meeting them at a public place. This will allow you to assess your date's behavior in a relatively safe environment.
  • Watch for inclinations that your date may be a controlling or dominating person who may try to control your behavior. A person who plans all activities and makes all decisions during a date may also be inclined to dominate in a private setting.
  • If the person drives and pays for all expenses, they may think they're justified in using force to get "what they paid for." If you cover some of the expenses, they may be less inclined to use this rationale to justify acting in a sexually coercive manner.
  • Avoid using alcohol or other drugs when you definitely do not wish to be sexually intimate with your date. Consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs, by both victim and perpetrator, is commonly associated with acquaintance rape. Drug intoxication can both diminish your capacity to escape from an assault and reduce your date's reluctance to engage in assaultive behavior.
  • Avoid behavior that may be interpreted as "teasing." Clearly state what you do and do not wish to do in regard to sexual contact. Such direct communication can markedly reduce a persons inclinations to force unwanted sexual activity or to "feel led on."
  • If, despite direct communication about your intentions, your date behaves in a sexually coercive manner, you may use a "strategy of escalating forcefulness - direct refusal, vehement verbal refusal, and, if necessary, physical force." In one study, the response rated by men as the most likely to get men to stop unwanted advances was the woman vehemently saying, "This is rape and I'm calling the cops." If verbal protests are ineffective, reinforce your refusal with physical force such as pushing, slapping, biting, kicking, or clawing your assailant.

What to Do in a Risky Situation:

  • Stay calm and think out what your options are and how safe it would be to resist.
  • Say "NO" strongly. Do not smile. Do not act polite or friendly.
  • Say something like "STOP IT! THIS IS RAPE!"
  • If the attacker is unarmed, fight back physically. Attack the most vulnerable parts of the body. Shout FIRE and escape as soon as possible.
  • If the attacker is armed, try to talk them out of continuing the assault or try passive resistance such as pretending to faint, vomit, or urinate.

Nine Ways to Stay Safe:

  1. Always walk briskly. Look alert and confident. Avoid carrying objects requiring the use of both arms.
  2. Stay away from isolated areas, day or night.
  3. Never walk alone when it is dark.
  4. If you are being followed, get away fast, change directions, and walk/run to a crowded area.
  5. Keep all doors to your car and residence locked at all times.
  6. Before you drive home, call your family, a friend, or a roommate so they will expect you and are aware if you are excessively late.
  7. Encourage group activities in the early stages of a relationship.
  8. Take a self-defense course.
  9. Be aware of legislation that concerns your gender and contact legislators to express your views.

Online Education Courses

SMC is committed to providing a campus environment that is free from sexual assault/misconduct and discrimination and where people understand their responsibilities to help prevent sexual assault/misconduct, including sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, stalking, and dating and domestic violence. Because we are all responsible for the safety of our community, the college provides faculty, staff, and students with valuable education and resources through online courses.

The interactive web-based course for faculty, staff, and students educates participants about sexual assault, the associated laws and College policies, and available resources at SMC.

Staff and faculty online training is available through Keenan Safe Colleges. Employees are expected to complete the course within 30 days of starting at the College. The course takes about 45 minutes to complete and can be accessed from any computer connected to the internet. The course will save your progress if you leave and need to come back to it.

New employees will receive an email with the link to this training.

Managers must complete mandatory Sexual Harassment Training every two years.

For further information please contact Flavio Medina Martin at 310-434-4303 or

Student online training is available.

Faculty, staff, and students also receive in-person training either during Professional Development days, classroom presentations and departmental presentations.